US enthusiasts rebut ministers' 'demonic' label to yoga

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 19, 2010 07:30 hrs

Washington, Oct 19 (IANS) Yoga enthusiasts across faiths have debunked two ministers' call to Christians to shun the popular exercise form, with one going to the extent of suggesting it is 'absolute paganism' and 'demonic'.

The row over yoga started when in a recent essay, R. Albert Mohler Jr, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, warned Christians that yoga is contradictory to Christianity.

And Seattle mega church pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church went even further, saying earlier this year that yoga is 'absolute paganism'.

'Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots? Totally. Yoga is demonic,' Driscoll said. 'If you just sign up for a little yoga class, you're signing up for a little demon class.'

'Here we go again with fear-based, black-and-white thinking,' countered Jennifer Norling of Seattle, a 42-year-old mainline Protestant who has been practicing yoga for many years.

'It's not fair to say yoga is demonic. In fact, I find it insulting. There are many ways to grow spiritually,' the Seattle Times quoted her as saying.

An estimated 15.8 million people practice yoga in the US, with Seattle ranking among its top yoga cities.

Anne Phyfe Palmer, owner of 8 Limbs Yoga Centres in Seattle, was quoted as saying her understanding of yoga is not based on religion but 'on a science of practices that enhance an individual's ability to connect to whatever spiritual practice they choose'.

Gary Chamberlain, professor emeritus of Christian ethics at Seattle University, said in many ways, yoga is similar to Christian forms of meditation.

Debi Raines, an evangelical Christian who lives in Redmond, teaches Holy Yoga classes at the evangelical Washington Cathedral in Redmond.

Each class includes a scripture reading, talk about how it relates to the lives of participants and yoga poses with Christian music playing in the background.

Denver resident Niki Sparks, a devout Christian who practices and teaches yoga, says: 'Holy yoga is a combination of worship and exercise. We play Christian music and we read scripture. It's all yoga and all Jesus, 100 percent of each.'

'Yoga is really what you make of it,' says Niki and she doesn't feel like she is doing anything wrong by using it to grow closer to her faith, Colorado's 9News.com reported.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)